Monday, 20 October 2014
A Special Place
As you may remember, if you're a regular visitor to this site, we've been enjoying a bicycle ride through the lovely Hertfordshire countryside. Although the county is criss-crossed by major roads and has a large population you can easily leave all that behind and find open spaces and special places if you venture along the minor roads. But you need to keep your eyes open......
....or you might miss a little track like this one which will take you to a little fragment of history. We are in the tiny village of Clothall, not far from Baldock, and you turn off the narrow, winding road onto this almost hidden lane which, like stepping through the looking glass, leads to another world.
At the bottom of the lane stands this ancient lamppost leaning tipsily among the autumn trees. And as you turn the corner you find yourself in a silent and timeless churchyard with a perfect little country church.
The church was mostly constructed in the fourteenth century (though parts are older) and is slightly unusual in that one enters through a door in the tower.
This must be rather inconvenient when a service is about to take place since there are bell-ropes hanging down in what would normally be the porch so, presumably, the congregation has to pass between the bell-ringers in order to enter the church.
The very rustic old door still bears the name of the man who made it several centuries ago - John Warren.
Inside, the church is plain and simple with an air of tranquillity which seems to have seeped into the stonework from generations of prayer and meditation. Even a disreputable old heathen like me feels some sense of reverence here. But it would still be quite easy take in the atmosphere then step outside again, closing the door gently behind you.
If you did that you'd have missed seeing something rare and rather wonderful. The east window is very old and of an unusual design. Stained glass generally exhibits the style of the particular time when it was made. There are subtle variations which experts can detect, allowing them to attribute certain windows to certain artists, but this is not always apparent to the casual observer.
But this window has a style all its own. There are two similar works to be seen elsewhere and these may well be the work of the same craftsman.
The window features "medallions" depicting Christ, the four Evangelists and Mary Magdalene.
The picture of Mary is interesting in that great prominence is given to her hair, probably in the belief that she was the same Mary who washed Christ's feet and dried them with her hair. It's also been suggested that this piece of glass was originally in the Mary Magdalene leper hospital which stood nearby.
There are also many small individual diamond-shaped panes which are decorated with birds, some of which are local to the area while others are exotic or perhaps fanciful. All in all a remarkable piece of work.
Time to step outside again and savour this little piece of England that time has forgotten. Most of the modern world seems to hurry by without stopping, though clearly some local people still come to clean the church and care for the graveyard. And just occasionally some weary cyclist leans his bike against a tree and comes in to nose about.
And I'm glad I did.